By Reena Martins
When I first arrived in Bombay in December 1992, the city was
on the boil. The evening before my nephew Varun's
christening, my family and I were stopped in our tracks en
route to town. Thick dark smoke smothered the horizon over
Bandra, which was to soon fall from grace as
queen-of-the-suburbs. The train could not bridge the gap
between a city divided against itself, and we had to retreat
to a quieter and distant suburb.
During a brief lull in the madness a few days
later, I moved to my aunt Dolcy's house in Mazagon.
The city was under long hours of curfew and
security forces in the lane below stood with guns
at the ready, pointed up and about. The battle
lines were drawn and the enemy was us. These men
appeared to notice us watching them through a crack
in the old window, and by a shot in the air sent us
toppling off a high stool in the kitchen balcony
one morning, as we dared to be seen a few minutes
A few months later, as if to lend credence to the never-say-die
cliche, Bombay licked her wounds and whipped herself into
shape -- though unable to disguise the grey of overnight
aging. She stayed up all night and I cashed in on her
insomnia, running along a turf still fractured in the name of
religion or God, or both. I was holier than them, their sins
were whiter than mine.
But soon there came a point where I was propelled out of the
epicenter of it all and was forced to look inward. Suddenly,
I yearned for a city that pumped far less adrenaline, and
whose arteries were clear and strong. I walked the streets
looking for vestiges of a time before she had pawned her
precious metal for the glare of glass and steel that cut her
to the quick.
The only place left to explore on her woefully pockmarked
face was my own backyard. I clawed for my roots and purged
myself of blood and gore, soaking in comforting stories of
everyday folk -- Goan immigrants like me who had come in
search of work, over half a century ago. I lapped up their
stories of a Bombay that was uncomplicated and accepting --
when self-help books did not venture beyond The Art of
Prolonging Life or How to Make a Living; and proprietorial
medicines were advertised with tall claims and typos.
Aurelium Miraculum, a 'purely innocent year' oil, could cure head
noises, earache, discharge, perforations and make the 'drumbe' hear.
Some of these folks had lived in Bandra of the Forties, when
children ran around gardens with butterfly nets. In the
quiet streets, a bus arrived every half hour or so, and
processions -- even funeral ones -- were the order of the
day. In summer, vendors went door-to-door with three-anna
kairi hapus (raw Alphonso) mangoes, and boys swam in a pool
that soldiers had enclosed at the foot of Mount Mary. Then
came the city's in-house villain, its Chief Minister, Morarji
Desai. A believer in urine therapy, Morarji was determined
to rid the city of booze. In 1949, the Bombay Prohibition
Act made it illegal to brew or drink alcohol.
But as liquor shops were forced shut, in walked the Goan
Aunty and her side kicks, upsetting Morarjibhai’s piss pot.
She even became a fixture in many a Bollywood flick, and at
her booze joint -- a spare room at home -- journalists,
writers and poets like Dom Moraes, wrote and read out poetry
over local hooch or ‘stuff’ smuggled out of Goa, served over
chakna or masala peanuts. In a quiet corner, Mario Miranda
drew car- toons and occasionally treated visitors like the
American poet, Allan Ginsberg, and Duke Ellington’s orchestra
to the Aunty’s nectar.
On Newland Street or Nava Lane in Mazagon, 'pimple tree'
Aunty -- nicknamed after the peepal tree outside her house --
awaited clients at the door in a low cut dress and arms
akimbo, her young daughter in tow. Across the road was
paapdi Aunty, her pretty Goan competitor. After the third
drink at these homey bars, water turned into wine, and as a
few old regulars would recount with relish, money for the
grog was eased into the Aunty's ample bosom.
Many an Aunty's client came from Goan kudds or clubs that
flourished in middle and lower income Goan ghettoes like
Dhobitalao, Byculla and Mazagon. In the Sixties, the Grand
Club of Velim in Dhobitalao hosted about 75 residents at
lunch, and over a hundred for dinner. Xitt-koddi-rice -- fat
boiled rice smothered with coconut based fish curry -- came
at 60 paise a plate.
The kudd was the great leveler -- whatever your station in
life, it had to be Rosary at 7 pm and lights out by 10.
Late-comers like veteran chef, Urbano de Rego, had to tiptoe
barefoot into the Grand Club of Diwar after the graveyard
shift at the Taj where he apprenticed in the Seventies. A
member summoned by the gong could be assured of a grilling by
the kudd's five-member committee; by the fourth blunder he
was simply shown the door. But whatever the offence, older
members frowned upon unsavoury news leaks. In some clubs,
they even made it a rule to find idle minds employment.
Kuddwallahs or kuddkars were also politically active and
mainly pro-Portuguese, a stance rewarded with instant
deportation. In July 1954, VS de Pompeia Viegas, honorary
secretary of Instituto Indo-Portuguese, was charged under the
Foreigners Act, 1946, and dispatched to Goa by the 5.20 pm
Poona Mail. That October, about a thousand copies of
*O Anglo-Lusitano*, Bombay's Portuguese-English newspaper,
were burnt outside the Mint, and the neighbouring Phaltan
Road police recorded it as an act of mischief before laying
the matter to rest.
Until 1962, a year after Portugal was ousted from
Goa, borders between Bombay and Goa had to be
crossed with a passport and visa; travel routes
were arduous and many hired guides to walk them
through treacherous jungle terrain. One afternoon
in 1954, as reported by the *Anglo*, a woman who
tried to reach Goa via thick Kanara forests arrived
at Anmod ghat -- it straddled Goa and Karnataka --
saw uniformed customs officials of the "Indian
Union" waiting to pounce on "hapless" Goans. After
her trunks, baskets and bedding were thoroughly
searched, she was charged a duty of seven annas,
while her 10-pound basket of potatoes bought in
Belgaum at 20 annas was confiscated by customs and
sold in the black market at ten times the price.
Some Goan tiatrists -- Konkani stage actors and singers who
addressed contemporary issues through tongue-in-cheek lyrics
and dialogues that went from preachy to risque -- were also
targetted by Indian immigration authorities at the border,
and charged with being pro-Portuguese. The late Goan
comedian, Souza Ferrao, was stopped with his drama troupe
from crossing into India while returning from Goa in 1959.
But back in Bombay, his tiatr, Camil Botler, touted as an
instructional comedy, was presided over by the then Mayor,
Dahyabhai V. Patel, at St Peter's Hall in Bandra. The
proceeds from the tickets priced at Rs 7, Rs 4.25, Rs 2.10
and Re 1.50 went to a charitable dispensary.
But tiatrists themselves were hardly people of
means. In the monsoon, Antonette Mendes took the
local train to shows carrying a swaddled suitcase
of costumes, while her mentor and theatre director,
the late Prem Kumar, did not hesitate to roll on
stage in his much-loved whites to demonstrate an
act. Maria Mohana, or Mona, the first Goan and
possibly Indian woman to be invited to an Italian
film festival in 1954, also started out as a
tiatrist. She flew to Rome that summer by Trans
World Airlines (TWA) to star in the
black-and-white, *Il pescatore di Posillipo* (The
Fisherman of Posillipo), directed by Giorgio
Capitani. This stately beauty was the eldest
sister of Ophelia, the late tragedienne of the
Konkani stage. Locals coming from faraway Goan
villages carrying Petromaxes to watch her tiatrs,
would call out to each other in excitement, "Mona
ailem, Mona ailem!" (Mona has arrived!) recalled Ophelia.
But Goan musicians -- they formed the backbone of Bollywood's
music industry for the better part of the 20th century -- got
none of their due recognition. Frank Fernand, the
yesteryears Bollywood musician and composer who produced
classics like *Amchem Noxib* (Our Fate) and *Nirmonn* (Destiny),
beamed these monochrome tragedies at his children's birthday
parties through a home projector, but "we didn't know dad was
a well known musician and filmmaker," says his unassuming son Max.
"Music directors took credit and called themselves composers,
when the real work was done by Goan musicians," rued Anthony
Gonsalves, whose name was immortalized by Manmohan Desai's
*Amar Akbar Anthony*. To protect their interests, a group of
Anthony's contemporaries formed the Senior Musicians
Association and fixed their wages -- Rs 50-100 -- for an
On October 15, 1943, 16-year-old Anthony went to audition
with the late music director Naushad Ali at Kardar Production
Studio in Bombay's erstwhile mill district, Parel. He was
among the few Goan musicians who could score music, and
Naushad was impressed. He asked Anthony his salary
expectations, unprepared for a cheeky response. "Company
mein jitna dum hai (Whatever the company can afford)." "He
(Naushad) earned Rs 700 a month and had I to put up my price,
what would have remained for him?" asked Anthony, a child
prodigy who'd cut his teeth on Gregorian music -- he was
choir master at Anjo Custodio (Guardian Angel) Church at 12
-- and in later years played raag gussa, ragini and putra
with equal ease.
After an eight hour shift at the studio, he gave violin
lessons and scored music till the wee hours. Two of his
students, RD Burman and Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma (of the
Laxmikant-Pyarelal duo), became Bollywood music biggies; and
a young Dilip Kumar, whom he taught the violin for his role
as a wandering musician in his debut movie, *Jwar Bhatta*,
went on to achieve legendary status. In 1965, Anthony
wandered off to New York to avail of a travel grant from
Syracuse University. A few decades later he returned to Goa,
never to perform again.
Like for so many unsung Bomoicars -- Bombay Goans -- who had
made Bollywood dance, Bombay struck a jarring note....
This is an extract from *Bomoicar: Stories of Bombay Goans,
1920-1980*, edited and compiled by Reena Martins. Pp 160. May 2014.
Pb. Rs 200 in Goa. ISBN 978-93-80739-42-7 Goa,1556 goa1...@gmail.com